|Power and Privilege
by Bruce Esgar
t has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Nowhere is that more true than in Las Vegas, where th e Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HEREIU) enjoys a virtual monopoly over casino workers.
Despite Nevada's right-to-work laws, the Culinary Unions Local 226 is a major force in Las Vegas. Why? Because people rarely challenge the union and there is little information available to educate workers about their rights in a right-to-work state.
Our organization, Nevada Employees For The Right To Work, was born out of a need to counter the Culinary's presence in Las Vegas and to immediately begin challenging the union's misleading statements. Despite recent court cases reinforcing the notion that union membership is voluntary and cannot be a requirement for employment, casino employees in Las Vegas routinely sign their rights away in a mistaken belief that they need what the union is selling to have a job and benefits.
Although we are a new organization, we have been relatively successful in living up to our mission. Not surprisingly, the media has ignored much of what we have done, but we hear from our members that the message is reaching them!
Exposing Corruption and
NERTW spends the bulk of its time trying to educate employees about their rights in the workplace. Most casino workers have no idea that their health insurance and pensions are paid for by their employer and not the union.
Our organization also works to expose corruption and financial mismanagement. Recently the federal government released a report outlining its five-year investigation of HEREIU. The report documents shocking examples of embezzlement, gross financial mismanagement and connections to organized crime. We know from reviewing Culinary's finances that $5 million in local dues are sent to the national offices of HEREIU in Washington, D.C. annually. So we took it upon ourselves to contact every member of a so-called inter-faith council in Las Vegas that regularly supports the union under the guise of religious compassion. We asked them where their outrage was over the union which has clearly betrayed the trust of its members by spending their dues on expensive cars and private planes. We sent copies of the report and our letters to the local press and we have made the government's report available for free to anyone who wants to read all 96 pages.
We studied three years of Culinary financial (LM-2 forms) records and came up with a page one story Local 226 had kept from its membersthat the organization is $1 million in debt. We also pledged to provide free copies of the financial records to anyone who wants to see for themselves where their union dues are spent.
Our boldest activity this year was requesting the right to sit with new employees during their orientation at hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. We sent letters to human resources executives at some of the biggest hotels in Las Vegas, asking for the right to provide information on workers rights in a right-to-work state.
We have also been providing free copies of court cases such as Bloom v. NLRB and Buzenius v. NLRB to anyone who wants to know more about what is unfolding in the courts.
In 1999 we expect to move forward with several new and exciting programs, including a survey of union members and a study of the Culinary pension plan.
This is just a small example of what our all-volunteer staff has been doing for the past year. We have a lot more to do. NJ
Bruce Esgar is president of the Nevada Employees for the Right to Work.